Unplugging My Wired Child


Unplugging My Wired Child

Teaching our kids to use technology intentionally

By Sue-Anne Wu | 24 February 2022

Addicted. Glued. Obsessed. Left to their own devices, many of our kids would be on their handphones, tablets or television 24/7. For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our children’s immersion into the digital world.

Our children are now used to attending classes online. They may also be studying with their friends on Google hangouts or doing group work over Zoom. And of course to unwind, there are online games, TikTok videos, and a myriad of social media platforms that allow our children to “connect” with their friends.

The problem is, they can’t stop. Just look at these headlines from The Straits Times this year: “Gaming Addiction on the rise among children in Singapore amid pandemic: Counsellors” (6 February 2022) “Dad saddled with S$20,000 credit card bill after daughter’s in-game spending spree on Genshin Impact.” (2 January 2022)

Given that technology is designed to be addictive, are we asking too much from our children to exercise self-control? Andrew Sullivan, a political commentator, argues that we don’t actually choose what we click on the Internet, rather, Silicon Valley’s technologist’s and their ever-perfecting algorithms are making those choices for us, keeping us hooked with their tailored interruptions and accurate advertisements. “No information technology ever had this depth of knowledge of its consumers or greater capacity to tweak their synapses to keep them engaged,” said Sullivan.

What then can we do as parents? Are we destined to a lifetime of technology tussles and vacant-eyed children?

Perhaps the key is to train our kids to use technology intentionally and combat their default scrolling with deliberate selection. Here are some ways to get them to reflect and make better choices:

  1. Be curious
  2. Try These Questions:

    • What are you using your screen for?
    • Why would you like to download this app/game?

    Our starting point should be to be curious about our children’s lives. Do we know who their friends are? In person and online? Who are they chatting with online and on which platform? Who do they like to follow on TikTok?

    Let them articulate their reasons, giving them opportunity to reflect and explain. This allows us to understand why our kids are using their devices and what they are getting out of their usage.

    Our long-term goal is to help them establish healthy media habits, but if we speak too early or always disagree with them, they may choose to shut us out.

    Let’s think the best of our kids. Maybe they are lonely in school and want to play that online game everyone else is talking about. Or their mindless scrolling is driven by the stress or frustration they feel in school.

  3. Decide on appropriate screen usage together
  4. Try These Questions:

    • Which app do you spend the most time on?
    • Which app is the biggest timewaster in your life?
    • If you were the parent, how much screen time would you give yourself for leisure with your current schedule?

    Many of us do not realise just how much time we are spending on our screens. Make it a family activity and check out the in-built Screen Time or Digital Well Being apps on our phones. These provide a snapshot of the amount of time we spend on our devices and which apps we are spending our time on.

    We could also talk about the different categories of screen time and the purpose of each: education, entertainment, engagement with friends, exercise, and others. One interesting factor you may want to consider is the ratio of time spent creating versus consuming.

    Challenge them to be intentional about how they spend their time online. This may entail being selective about the games they play or the programmes they watch. It may also involve taking active steps such as reducing the number of apps on their devices, setting time limits on some apps, or turning notifications off.

    “No software can replace good old-fashioned parenting.”

  5. Mentor, not just monitor
  6. Try These Questions:

    • What traits do you think you need to display before we will allow you to have a handphone?
    • What do you think is an inappropriate image and what would you do if you see one?
    • What would your principal say if she watched this TikTok video?

    It gets increasing difficult to police device usage as our children grow older and more schoolwork and communications shift online. Parental controls and settings are useful, but only to a limited degree given that YouTube is full of kids sharing ideas on how to bypass these controls.

    This is why Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise, PhD in Media, Technology and Society from Northwestern University, advises us to mentor and not just monitor.

    In the same vein, Prof Daniel Fung, CEO of Institute of Mental Health, also highlighted that it is the role of parents to help our kids guard against online grooming and pornography amid the growing problem of young children being exposed to sexual content online (The Straits Times, 9 February 2022).

    Try talking through various scenarios with your children and exchanging opinions on matters such as: Appropriate speech online, what constitutes online bullying, online privacy and self-control in gaming.

    Hopefully with regular tech-conversations, they can begin to imbibe our values and understand our concerns regarding technology.

    “No software can replace good old-fashioned parenting.” says Kurt Beidler, General Manager, Amazon Kids and Family. Even though they seem to reject it, our kids need our wisdom to guide them towards thoughtful technology use so that they can harness the good of technology without getting drawn into the rabbit hole of scrolling.

    Our sincere attempts at connecting with our kids may sometimes be met with grunts or monosyllabic answers, but let’s not be discouraged. Let’s keep our curiosity, work out appropriate boundaries and mentor our children towards forming a healthy relationship with technology, and a stronger foundation for life.

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Sue-Anne Wu is a nature seeker and an avid reader. She manages her 4 rambunctious boys (aged 2 to 11) with a healthy dose of optimism and several shots of coffee.

Did you know that sexuality education is more than just talking about the birds and the bees? It’s about helping your children become confident about themselves, learn how to make good decisions, and how to build healthy relationships. Find out more at our upcoming webinar: Relational Health & Sexual Intelligence .

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